Harding’s Hark: The Inside Story - Passages of Promise
On the whole, it was a comfortable evening for FC Bayern München as they beat Hannover 96 for the second time in a week to make the last 16 of the German Cup. A 4-1 scoreline was maybe a bit harsh on the visitors, but Pep Guardiola’s side took another step forward in their development, as Jonathan Harding explains.
Against Hannover, Bayern opted for the same 4-1-4-1. Lahm sat deep in midfield, Toni Kroos was central with Bastian Schweinsteiger, the latter once again enjoying his licence to roam between midfield and attack. In the early stages, Lahm roamed around and the biggest compliment he could be paid was that he looked comfortable.
Fluidity and versatility are two major watchwords under Guardiola. Bayern’s second goal summarised that perfectly as centre back Dante moved into the empty left back position to cross exquisitely for the unmarked Claudio Pizarro.
Bringing on Franck Ribery for the tiring Pizarro moved Thomas Müller into attack, a position he has long not occupied. It worked too as Müller added his second and showed increased confidence while further forward. More interestingly was David Alba who, before returning to left back when Jan Kirchhoff came on, took up the more attacking midfield role (for Schweinsteiger). And in a position he has recently enjoyed for his country, he once again looked frighteningly comfortable.
Lahm is looking more and more like Pep Guardiola’s desired defensive midfielder. Having labelled him “the most intelligent player” he has ever worked with, it is hardly surprising that he wants to mould the world-class right back into perhaps the most complete player. When the likes of Thiago and Javi Martinez recover, he will no doubt return to his favoured right back spot, but it’s a scary thought to consider how he might return to that position even better.
Being out of form means taking anything to get back into it the game and Thomas Müller’s brace was certainly overdue. Both goals were opportunistic but will undoubtedly help the attacker on his hunt for space, a quest that has left him more lost than found recently.
Lahm and Alaba’s ability to slip into new positions with such ease is as much a credit to their quality as it is to Guardiola’s coaching. Other players have not made the transition as easily.
In a word - patchy. Bayern started really well, riding off the performance peak against Schalke last week. For the last quarter of the first half though, they almost turned into a different team, showing a number of defensive gaps and inaccuracy in possession. Again the same happened at the start of the second, before the third goal calmed them. They must find that confidence they seemingly retained at all times last year. Once they come through this learning process, it should appear more regularly.
The balance between total football and positional awareness is an exciting development but it does have a price during its infancy. Bayern’s positioning at the back, particularly for the goal, had all the signs of a defence still learning how to balance all aspects of their game. The regular positional shifts caused for some transitional adjustments but this side is learning to adapt to those changes more and more swiftly.